Stem the tide of homelessness

Marcus Jones speaks at the Stem the tide of homelessness conference organised by Homeless Link.

Marcus Jones MP

I was delighted to accept Rick’s invitation to speak today, following on from the Under one Roof conference in July, to reaffirm the government’s commitment to protecting the most vulnerable in society.

And let me tell you, the past 6 months have been a real eye opener.

I have been to Hammersmith and Fulham, Peckham, Devon, Cornwall and Warwickshire to see first hand the fantastic work that you do to support people to take their first steps out of homelessness and into independence.

I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with Rick Henderson, Jeremy Swain from Thames Reach, Howard Sinclair from St Mungo’s Broadway, Jean Templeton at St Basil’s and Stephen Bell from Changing Lives to name but a few. And straight after this, I’ll be heading off to see Crisis’s London Skylight Centre.

Next year, I am determined to get out and about even more, and will be going on my very first outreach shift in London.

So I want to start by telling you that all the tireless work that you do to support some of the most vulnerable in society hasn’t gone unnoticed. Never lose that passion and energy. You make a genuine difference to the people that you work with. And for those that are living on the streets, you are a real life saver.

Over the last Parliament, we have made great strides in ensuring that homeless people have the right support that they need to get back on their feet. Through the central investment that government has made to support local areas to tackle and prevent homelessness, we have delivered a lot together.

Our £8 million Help for Single Homeless Fund has allowed 168 local authorities to partner up together to help some of the hardest to reach individuals. These projects are offering support to help people turn their lives around and find a long term solution that supports their needs.

Our Access to the Private Rented Sector programme, which we have funded Crisis to run, has helped over 9,000 people access and sustain privately rented accommodation. This isn’t just about putting a roof over someone’s head, but ensuring that they get the support they need to rebuild their lives.

The pioneering StreetLink service, which we have funded, has lead to nearly 15,500 rough sleepers being found and connected with local services. The service is making it easier for the public to help someone that’s sleeping rough. Not with a cash handout, but with the valuable alternative of practical support.

We have pioneered 2 of the world’s first Social Impact Bonds in homelessness – the Fair Chance Fund for young people, and the Social Impact Bond for the entrenched rough sleepers in London.

And I have seen first hand the work of the No Second Night Out hubs in London, which have successfully helped over 4,000 people exit rough sleeping. More widely, the Homelessness Transition Fund has helped people find stable homes and jobs to get their lives back on track.

However, I am not complacent and I recognise that there are some significant challenges that remain.

When I last stood in front of you in July, I announced that I wanted to draw on your experience and expertise to improve the impact of homelessness services. So I have started a series of conversations with you and local commissioners on how we continue to deliver the best for this vulnerable group of people in a tougher financial climate.

The messages that I have heard so far about the challenges that you face have been loud and clear.

You have said that you find the funding environment challenging.

You have reinforced that homelessness isn’t just a housing issue, and that other local partners such as health, probation and Job Centres need to play their part in helping people access the services that they need to get back on their feet.

You have expressed concern about vulnerable individuals with complex needs falling through the safety net because opportunities to prevent treatable problems are missed.

I cannot solve these overnight, but what I can say is that I – and the government – are listening to what you say and are ready to rise to the challenge.

Two weeks ago, the Chancellor presented the outcome of the Spending Review to Parliament. His speech set out a long-term economic plan to rebuild Britain, whilst reforming public services and devolving more power than ever before. He was also clear that there had been difficult decisions to take to live within our means and bring down our debt. Yet, we have recognised and listened to the pressures that you are telling us that you are facing.

In the last Parliament, we made £109 million available to local areas on top of Homelessness Prevention Grant. This investment meant that we could roll out No Second Night Out nationally through the Homelessness Transition Fund. It also allowed us to invest in StreetLink; the Fair Chance Fund; Help for Single Homeless; and the Access to the Private Rented Sector Scheme.

So in this Spending Review, we have chosen to reaffirm our commitment to protecting the most vulnerable in society.

Whilst my department has reduced its overall resource budget by nearly 30%, we have taken the decision to increase the dedicated central funding that we provide to local areas to tackle homelessness.

Over the next 4 years, we will increase central funding by making £139 million available for innovative programmes to prevent and reduce homelessness. In addition:

  • we make additional Discretionary Housing Payment funding available to local authorities; this will allow them to help some of the most vulnerable people, including those in supported accommodation
  • we are putting local government in control of their own finances, allowing them to respond efficiently and flexibly to local need; by the end of this Parliament, local government will be spending the same in cash terms as it does today
  • we have devolved additional responsibilities, meaning that the temporary accommodation management fee will no longer be paid through the benefits system; instead, councils will receive this money upfront; we are maintaining at current levels and providing an additional £10 million a year, so that they can give more freedom and flexibilities to local authorities
  • and whilst I cannot say any more on Homelessness Prevention Grant until we publish the Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement later this month, I want to assure you that I have listened very carefully to the representations that have been made by you on its importance

But we have to make every penny count and be more ambitious. Underpinning this investment will be a new approach, which I want to work with you to shape. As a sector, you will want to think about how you can best respond.

We know that we need to catalyse larger scale reform in how services for single homeless people are delivered to make them more effective and efficient.

And we know that the system is match-fit for the challenges that lie ahead, and is able to ensure that you have the right capabilities in place to do your job to the best of your ability.

I want to see greater innovation, greater partnership working and greater service integration at a local level. And services commissioned on robust evidence and smarter use of data.

This needs to include earlier and more effective interventions at a local level, which will prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. The very question that you are all asking in this room today.

So I want to set the bar high. This investment won’t be about maintaining the status quo. It will be about delivering better outcomes for vulnerable people who really need our help.

I am already starting to hear about some fantastic examples out there, that I want to see more of.

For example, our Help for Single Homeless Fund has funded Tower Hamlets, Hackney and the City of London to partner up to deliver an ambitious ‘No First Night Out’ pilot. The scheme is providing a rapid intervention service and intensive mediation to those at risk of sleeping rough. It’s at early stages, but it should significantly reduce the number of new rough sleepers in the 3 boroughs.

And a number of areas are testing out the Housing First approach, which has been a real success internationally. Brighton, Camden and Newcastle are just 3 local authorities who I know are innovating by organising services around the needs of individuals.

And we will innovate too. The Spending Review announced that we will expand support for Social Impact Bonds, investing over £100 million over the Parliament – on top of the £139 million – to help deal with issues that include homelessness, poor mental health and youth employment.

So we will look to build on London’s approach of using social investment to improve outcomes for rough sleepers by setting up a brand new Social Impact Bond. Targeted at geographical hotspots with the most complex and entrenched homeless individuals, the programme will launch by 2017.

I have signed up to play my part and show strong, cross-government leadership on this issue.

I have already started by re-convening the Ministerial Working Group on Homelessness. The Group will bring government departments together to ensure that all of Whitehall plays its part in breaking the cycle of homelessness.

And over the next few months I, and my team, will continue our conversations with you on how we can best meet the needs of vulnerable homeless people.

I chaired my first roundtable with Chief Executives from the sector in September, and the Group will meet again in January.

Meanwhile, my team are getting out and about to see the services that you deliver in action, and hear about what interventions are working well.

These conversations will not only help shape where we target our central investment, but help us understand where there are blockages in the system that we need to tackle.

And here’s where you come in. As you go about your discussions at today’s conference, I want to set you a challenge.

What role can each of you play to make this happen, and where could government help?

What great examples of innovation should we be building on to develop our new approach?

How can you share and access data on the effectiveness of interventions to target your resources more smartly?

I am looking to Homeless Link to let me know what you would find most helpful in meeting the challenges ahead.

I’m happy to take questions from the floor.

Published 8 December 2015